The Australian Federal Police (AFP) reports that the master of the 8,845 TEU containership Maersk Surabaya has been charged in relation to an August 1 incident that allegedly damaged the Australia Singapore Cable off the West Australian coast.
A section of the subsea communications cable in the Perth Submarine Cable Protection Zone, approximately 10 kilometers offshore from City Beach, was disabled early on August 1.
Allegations that a passing vessel had damaged the cable—causing approximately AUD 1.5 million (about US$1,08 million damage) were reported to the AFP on August 3.
An investigation by AFP officers in Western Australis and Victoria resulted in the arrest of the Maersk Surabya’s master, described as a 59 year old Ukrainian national.
According to the AFP, the Maersk Surabaya had been anchored approximately 500 meters from the protection zone, and allegedly dragged its anchor through the area in high winds, snagging and damaging the 20 meter-deep subsea cable.
The man was charged August 11 after AFP investigators searched the vessel when it docked in Melbourne and seized ship logs.
The man appeared by video-link in Melbourne Magistrates Court on a charge of:
- Engaging in negligent conduct as the Master of a maritime vessel, which resulted in damage to the Australian Singapore Cable, contrary to section 37 of schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth).
The offense carries a potential maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and an AUD 40,000 (about US$29,000) fine.
The man was granted bail with strict conditions and is currently in COVID hotel quarantine.
AFP Detective Superintendent Graeme Marshall said damage to a subsea cable can have serious financial consequences for both the cable operator and for customers who experience reduced connectivity and data access.
“The protection zone is clearly marked on maritime charts and all vessel masters should ensure vessels operate in a manner which does not interfere with critical communications infrastructure,” said Detective Superintendent Marshall.